The decision to try to become pregnant or finding out you are pregnant can be an exciting, yet scary time. Pregnancy can be especially scary for first-time moms and dads. Not knowing what to expect can leave you feeling apprehensive and even nervous along the way.
Pregnancy, birth, labor and delivery make up a long process.
This journey (or process begins from the minute you suspect and confirm pregnancy up to the time you are holding your new bundle of joy in your arms. Pregnancy is an exciting, new journey.
Early Signs of Pregnancy
If you think you may be pregnant or are trying to become pregnant, looking out for the early signs of pregnancy is in the best interest for your health and for the health of your baby. It is important to remember that pregnancy symptoms can vary from woman to woman and can also vary from pregnancy to pregnancy (if this is your second or third child you may experience different symptoms).
Menstrual Cycle – One of the most significant symptoms and often the symptom that causes women to suspect pregnancy is the absence (or possible delay) of the menstrual cycle. When you become pregnant, many women will miss their period. However, other women may continue to bleed – although this bleeding is likely shorter and lighter than that of a normal menstrual cycle.
Implantation Bleeding – This is another very early indicator of pregnancy. Implantation Bleeding can occur six to 12 days after conception when the embryo implants itself into the uterine wall. You may experience spotting and even mild cramping.
Swollen or tender breasts – This symptom may begin one to two weeks after conception. Women may notice their breasts becoming swollen, sore or tender to the touch.
Fatigue – Unexplained fatigue and tiredness can also be an indicator of pregnancy. Feeling more tired than usual can occur as early as one week after conception and can last throughout a pregnancy.
Nausea & Morning Sickness – One of the most common and perhaps the most dreaded symptoms associated with pregnancy are nausea and morning sickness. This symptom can occur between two and eight weeks following conception. For some women, morning sickness may be mild for others it may be severe. For a small number of pregnant women, nausea and morning sickness may never be a problem. Morning sickness and nausea tend to decrease as pregnancy continues.
Aches and Pains – You may experience lower back pain that occurs early on during pregnancy. As your pregnancy progresses, you experience a dull backache. A sudden influx of hormones in your body may also lead to headaches during the early stages of pregnancy.
Urinating – For 6-8 weeks after conception, you may have the frequent urge to urinate. You may notice yourself taking extra and frequent trips to the rest room. You may also experience darkening of your areolas (the skin surrounding your nipples).
Eating more – One other common symptom associated with pregnancy is food cravings and food aversions. You may have the certain urge to eat certain snack foods while other foods may completely turn you off. This can begin early on in your pregnancy and last the entire nine months.
Confirming Your Pregnancy
Once you suspect you are pregnant, it is best to confirm your pregnancy as early as possible to maintain best interest for your baby and yourself.
You can try a home pregnancy test. While mostly accurate, a home pregnancy test can also result in a false negative – meaning you are pregnant even if the test indicates you are not.
The absolute best and most certain way to confirm pregnancy is to make an appointment with your health care provider. A simple blood best can confirm pregnancy. A blood test is able to pick up on even the smallest amounts of hcG, a hormone produced by your body during pregnancy.
Deciding on an Obstetrician
An obstetrician is going to be an important and integral part of your life for the next nine months. As a result, it is important to find an obstetrician you are comfortable with. If you have a gynecologist, who is also an obstetrician, you are in luck and will not need to look any further – provided you are comfortable with this doctor. If you are searching for an obstetrician, here is some key advice to follow:
- Are you comfortable and have confidence in this doctor? You should trust and feel at ease with the obstetrician you are going to use.
- Ask questions about the practice. Some women may prefer low-key and basic care when it comes to prenatal care. Others may perform every high-tech diagnostic and imaging test available to ensure the health of their baby.
- How many physicians are in the practice? If there is a chance your baby may be delivered by another doctor or you will be seeing a large number of doctors for appointments, do not hesitate to ask for information about these doctors or if it is possible to meet them. If you only want one doctor, you may want to opt for a solo practice.
- Find out the doctor’s policy on after-hour or emergency problems as well as availability by phone evenings and weekends.
- Inquire about hospital affiliation. You may want to choose an obstetrician with a hospital you are comfortable using and one that is convenient for you.
- Inquire about anesthesia services. Unless you are going for a natural birth, you will want to make sure there is a staff member on-call or available at all times to provide an epidural.
- Ask about hospital accommodations. Will your partner be able to stay in the hospital with you following birth.
- Make sure your insurance is accepted by the hospital and obstetrician.
- You may also want to find out if specialists are on staff at the hospital in the event of a complication or emergency.
Pregnancy Stages Week by Week
In order to understand your pregnancy as well as the development of your baby, you will need understand the trimesters of your pregnancy as well as the development of your baby.
The First Trimester of Your Pregnancy
Weeks 1-2- Gestational Age: During this time period your menstrual cycle has just ended and your body is getting ready for ovulation. Ovulation normally occurs within 11-21 days form the first day of your last menstrual period. If conception occurs, sperm will penetrate an egg and create a single set of 46 chromosomes known as a zygote. A zygote is the basis of a new life. A fertilized egg will then spend a few days traveling through your fallopian tube to the uterus. Here cells will be divided into a morula. Within 6-12 days of conception, the blastocyst will be embedded into the walls of the uterus where the embryonic stage will then begin.
Fetal Age Week 1: During this time, the embryo goes through a lot of basic development. The embryo will begin to develop a brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract and a heart.
Fetal Age Week 2-3: At this time, the arms and leg bugs become visible. However, they are not fully distinguishable. The placenta has also begun to form and the hormone, hCG , continues to be formed. The early structures of the eyes and ears also begin to form. The embryo is approximately ¼ of an inch long at this point.
Fetal Age Week 4: At this point, the lunges, nose, palate and jaw begin to forms. The hands and feet begin to develop web-like structures which will eventually become your baby’s fingers and toes. The brain begins to become more complex and an ultrasound is not able to pick up the heartbeat of your baby. Your baby is now about a half an inch in length.
Fetal Age Week 5: At this point of your pregnancy, every essential organ in your baby’s body has begun to form. The embryo is tiny and does not weigh much. The hair, nipples, eyelids and tongue has begun to form. The trunk is able to straighten out some and the elbows and toes become more visible.
Fetal Age Week 6: At this point, the embryo has all the same features of an adult human, only much smaller. The ears continue to form, the bones are maturing and muscles can now contract. The facial features of your baby are becoming more prominent.
Fetal Age Weeks 7-11: The fetus is now approximately 3 inches in length and weighs approximately one ounce. At this point, genitals have clearly formed into male or female parts. However, an ultrasound will not be able to detect whether your baby is a boy or a girl at this point. The fetus’ eyelids shut and will not open again until the 28th week of pregnancy.
Fetal Age Weeks 12-14: At this point of your pregnancy the skin is transparent and find hair known as lanugo has begun to form on your baby’s head. The fetus is able to suck and swallow. Your baby now had its own unique finger prints. Meconium, which is produced in the intestinal tract, begins to build up and will eventually be your baby’s first bowel movement. The fetus is approximately 6 inches long and weighs about 4 ounces. Mom should be able to feel the baby kicking at this point in time.
Fetal Age Weeks 15-18: At this point in your pregnancy, you will be able to feel the movements of your baby much more often. The eyebrows and eyelashes have begun to grow along with tiny finger nails. The skin becomes stronger and the heartbeat of your baby can now be felt with a stethoscope. At this point, your baby is approximately 8 inches long and weighs about 12 ounces.
Fetal Age Weeks 19-21: Lanugo (or thin hair) now covers the entire body of your baby. Fat begins to develop and the skin becomes less and less transparent. The liver and pancreas are working hard to fully develop. The eyes are now completely formed. At this stage of your pregnancy, the fetus has reached approximately 10-11 inches in length and weighs between one and one and one fourth pounds.
Fetal Age Weeks 22-24: With the assistance of medical technology, your baby could now survive outside of the womb. Your baby has now developed walking and sleeping cycles that mom-to-be has likely noticed. The fetus has reflexes and air sacs in the lungs begin to form. The nervous system has started to develop. At this stage of development, the fetus has reached about 14 inches in length and weighs approximately 2 ¼ pounds.
The Third Trimester
You’re almost there!
Fetal Age Week 25-30: The fetus begins to become bigger and bigger reaching approximately 4-4 ½ pounds and 15-17 inches in length. The fetus can store its own iron, calcium and phosphorus. The bones are fully developed, but still a little soft. The eyelids have opened for the first time since the first trimester.
Fetal Age Weeks 31-34: During this stage of your pregnancy, the fetus will begin to descend into a head down position in an effort to prepare for birth. The fetus continues to grow rapidly in size and now weighs between 5 ¾ and 6 ¾ pounds. The fetus is approximately 16-19 inches long. The lanugo hair is now disappearing; the skin becomes less red and wrinkled.
Fetal Age Weeks 35-38: It is almost time. At 38 weeks, the fetus is considered full-term. Mom-to-be may notice a decline in movement of the fetus has he/she is now filling the uterus with less room to move around. All of the organs have developed and the lungs will continue to mature until birth occurs. At this time, the fetus is between 19 -21 inches long. At birth, your baby may weight anywhere from 6 ¾ lbs to 10 lbs.
Pregnancy Hospital Checklist
Once you have hit the 8th month of your pregnancy, it is an excellent idea to have a bag packed. You never know when you may need it.
Things you must have:
- Photo ID
- Your insurance cards
- A birth plan if you’d created one
Things you may need:
- Glasses (these may be easier to deal with than contacts)
- Toiletries (brush, lip balm, deodorant, tooth paste, tooth brush, shampoo, lotion, make-up, hair care)
- Your own pajamas
- Something that may help you to relax (light reading material, your own pillow, music)
- Nursing bra
- Roomy, cotton underwear
- A list of phone numbers to call family and friends
- Going home outfit
For your partner or labor coach:
- Camera or video camera (with batteries, a memory card and charger)
- Comfortable shoes and clothes
- A few changes of clothes
- Cash for the vending machines
- Reading materials
For Your New Baby:
- Car seat
- Going home outfit
- Receiving blankets
What You Don’t Need:
- Jewelry, a lot of cash or other valuables
- Breast pump
Pregnancy and Fitness
Just because you are pregnant does not mean you should not work-out. Regular exercise can be healthy for you and your baby and can even help make your pregnancy more comfortable.
Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
- Increased energy levels.
- Get a better night’s rest.
- Reduced discomfort during pregnancy.
- Better prepared for labor and delivery.
- Reduced stress and increased spirits.
- Improved self-image and self-esteem.
- Easier to return to your pre-pregnancy shape following childbirth.
Exercise During Your First Trimester
During the first three months of your pregnancy, you are likely to gain between zero and 10 pounds and experience an expansion in your blood volume. Even without weight gain, you may feel winded easily while engaging in physical activity. As a result it is important to stay hydrated during exercise. Hydration can help to reduce feelings of being overheated and help to keep your blood volume at a normal level. Exercise should be light during pregnancy. During a pregnancy, you should not introduce difficult or intense training regimes. Stick with low-impact exercises such as walking or swimming. Low-impact exercise can help you to avoid strains and other injuries especially if you are just beginning an exercise program for the first time in a while.
Exercise During Your Second and Third Trimesters
During this portion of your pregnancy, you can expect to gain between 22 and 35 pounds. Due to weight gain, your center of gravity may be off. As a result, you may have trouble with balance and coordination. During these later stages of your pregnancy, water exercise may help to ease discomfort and in preventing injury. At this point, you should avoid exercises lying face down or face up as to not place pressure on the arteries supplying blood to your baby.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends delaying the start of an exercise program until you are able to have a medical evaluation. You will want to avoid exercise if you have abnormal pregnancy progressions, vaginal bleeding, chronic fatigue, persistent pain or membrane ruptures. If during exercise you experience regular contractions in 30 minutes or less, this could be an indicator of pre-term labor. Seek medical attention immediately. To avoid the risk of pre-term labor, avoid high-intensity exercise.
Essential Nutrients During Pregnancy
Eating right and healthy is an important part of your pregnancy. A well-balanced diet can help to ensure your health along with the health of your baby. Remember, you are now eating for two; not just yourself.
Folate and Folic Acid
Folate is part of the vitamin B complex and can help prevent birth defects including neural tube defects and serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. Inadequate folate in a pregnancy diet can also lead to pre-term delivery and low birth weight. During your pregnancy, you should consume 800 micrograms of folate or folic acid on a daily basis. Food sources of folate and folic acid include leafy, green vegetables, citrus fruits, peas and dried beans.
Calcium can help ensure that you and your baby have strong, healthy bones and teeth. Calcium can also help to keep your muscular, circulatory and nervous systems running properly. For pregnant adult women, 1,000 milligrams of calcium is recommended daily. For pregnant teenagers, 1,300 milligrams of calcium is recommended on a daily basis. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, fortified fruit juices and fortified cereals.
Also referred to as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D aids in buiding strong, healthy bones and teeth for your baby. During your pregnancy, you should consume 600 IU (or International Units) per day. Sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, fortified milk and orange juice.
Protein is essential in the growth and development of your baby. Protein is especially important during the second and third trimesters of your pregnancy. You should consume 71 grams of protein each day. Sources of protein include fish, poultry, lean meats, fish and eggs. Protein can also be found in dried beans, tofu, peas, peanut butter and dairy products.
Iron is important in making hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that aids in carrying oxygen to the tissues of your body. Since during your pregnancy your blood volume expands, iron is important in helping to prevent anemia and in accommodating the changes to your body and making sure your baby gets enough iron. If you develop anemia, you may feel more fatigued and more susceptible to infections. Pre-term birth and low birth rate risks increase in moms-to-be with anemia. During your pregnancy, you should consume 27 milligrams per day. Sources of iron include lean meat, red meat, poultry, fish, iron-fortified cereals, nuts and dried fruits.